Skip to Main Content
Login to LibApps

EGR 104

The EGR 104 Library Guide has been deveolped to assist you in accomplishing some of the key class assignments and course learning objectives.

Finding engineering successes and failures

Engineering successes are often harder to find because nothing bad happened.  The Hoover Dam is a success even though its construction was fraught with problems and deaths. Sometimes success eventually leads to failure because of upkeep issues.

The History Channel's Modern Marvels, Science Channel's Impossible Engineering, Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering, and National Geographics' Megastructures are all good starting points. Some of the episodes are on the Internet or from various streaming services.

Certainly, you can count many everyday products as engineering successes, you just have a much harder time finding information on them. The current exception would be new technologies.

For background on many common things, you can use encyclopedias for background: 

Once you know the name of a structure or product/device, you can search for scholarly articles and books.

For the successes we use these databases: 

Picking an engineering failure takes a little time to get just the right one for this assignment.

  • Try not to pick one that is too old. Most governments have not put their older reports online. Only the last 20-25 years are likely to be online and publicly available.
  • If you do pick a failure from before 1970, expect to have to use historical newspapers and history journal articles to track down the name or even existence of an failure analysis report.  
  • It is easier to find a report by a Federal agency than a state or local government. 
  • Disasters or failures investigated by the government or investigative agency are more likely to have public reports analyzing what happened than what the company involved may do internally.
  • Picking a failure in another country adds another level of difficulty, especially if the official language is not English and you don't speak or read that language.
  • Failure causes can change over time. The latest Titanic theory adds a coal fire and the Boston great molasses flood of 1919 has new engineering failure possibilities (and linked to the same structural causes of the Titanic)

Keep in mind that prior to the 1960s, all calculations were done by hand -- slide rules (17th Century), calculators (19th century) and the abacus (2700 BCE) were the  advanced technology of those days. Logarithms were developed in the 17th century.

Also bear in mind that the standardized uniform weights and measures we use today have only been used for a few hundred years. Atomic clocks as the international standard for measures began in 1972. The current version dates to 2014. These factors may have different implications depending on the date of the failure. 

While you cannot use these as sources in your paper and the information needs to be verified in more reliable sources, these can be great starting points:

Wikipedia has lists of engineering failuresdisasters, and structural failures & collapses, as does Business Insider and Interesting Engineering

The History Channel TV shows Modern Marvels (look for the disaster episodes) and Engineering Disasters are also useful. 

Historical sources

To actually find the failure analysis report, we need to know a few things:

  • Who did the report?  Did more than one agency do a report? (This is often reported in the news of the time)
  • The name of the failure - both the common name (Galloping Gertie) and the official name (Tacoma Narrows Bridge)
  • Who was the report for? Congress? If the failure was a federal project like the space shuttles, The agency should do a report and there may be a second one for Congress, although the agency report could go up the chain of command to Congress. Some failures get their own special investigative committee.  
  • There may be classified and unclassified versions of the report. We are only able to get the unclassified version.
  • The pattern is similar for state and local projects that fail.

Once you have that information, you can start by using either Library One Search or the ASU Library Online Catalog to see if we have a copy in our Government Documents Collection or any other books on the failure.  It is easier to do a keyword search with the words from the title of the report.

If you have trouble finding the correct citation or the report, contact me.

Your Librarian

Profile Photo
Jenny Mueller-Alexander
Areas of expertise
Business, Economics, & Entrepreneurship
Ira A. Fulton Engineering: Polytechnic School &
ASU Libraries @ Polytechnic campus
Profile and Guides
LOCATION: 38 CNTR Polytechnic campus
Mon-Fri................7:00 am - 3:00 pm
or by appointment via phone, Zoom, Slack, Skype (no in person at the moment)
Skype Contact: JennyMA.ASULibraries

The ASU Library acknowledges the twenty-two Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. Arizona State University's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today. ASU Library acknowledges the sovereignty of these nations and seeks to foster an environment of success and possibility for Native American students and patrons. We are advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies within contemporary library practice. ASU Library welcomes members of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh, and all Native nations to the Library.